IOC to include athletes kneeling in highlights, social media

Australia players pose for a group photo with an indigenous flag prior to women's soccer match against New Zealand at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Tokyo.

TOKYO (AP) — After images of Olympic soccer players taking a knee were excluded from official highlight reels and social media channels, the IOC said Thursday they will be shown in the future.

Players from five women’s soccer teams kneeled in support of racial justice Wednesday, the first day it was allowed at the Olympic Games after a ban lasting decades.

The concession under Olympic Charter Rule 50, which has long prohibited any athlete protest inside event venues, was finally allowed this month by the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC has tried to reconcile enforcing the rule while recognizing, and sometimes celebrating, the iconic image of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raising a black-gloved fist on the medal podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

On Wednesday, the British and Chilean teams kneeled before the opening games and were followed by the United States, Sweden and New Zealand players in later kickoffs. The Australia team posed with a flag of Australia's indigenous people.

Those images were excluded from the official Tokyo Olympic highlights package provided by the IOC to media including The Associated Press who could not broadcast the games live.

Official Olympic social media channels also did not include pictures of the athlete activism.

“The IOC is covering the Games on its owned and operated platforms and such moments will be included as well,” the Olympic body said Thursday in an apparent change of policy.

The IOC said hundreds of millions of viewers could have seen the footage watching networks that have official broadcast rights and “can use it as they deem fit.”

The decades-long ban on all demonstrations was eased by the IOC three weeks ago when it was clear some athletes — especially in soccer and track and field — would express opinions on the field in Japan.

Two reviews of Rule 50 in the previous 18 months by the IOC's own athletes commission had concluded Olympic competitors did not want distractions on their field of play.

The new guidance allows taking a knee or raising a fist in pre-game or pre-race introductions but not on medal ceremony podiums. The IOC will still discipline athletes who protest on the podium.

Sports governing bodies still have a veto, and swimming’s FINA has said its athletes are prohibited on the pool deck from any gesture interpreted as protest.

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